Walsall striker Will Grigg was today ruled out of Northern Ireland's key World Cup qualifiers against Russia and Israel.
The 19-goal forward was favourite to lead the line against Russia in Belfast tomorrow but has been unable to train due to a hamstring injury.
Grigg suffered the problem in the Saddlers’ 2-2 draw with Crawley – where he scored a last minute equaliser – on Saturday.
Walsall boss Dean Smith said: “Will is back with us. He had a scan with their medical people and we’re hoping it’s a grade one but it’s too risky to play in those two games.
“We’ll send him for a scan with our specialist but it’s not too serious. Hopefully he’ll be back for Yeovil but, if not, the Coventry game.”
With Kyle Lafferty suspended two-cap Grigg was expected to spearhead his country’s attack.
He made his international debut against Holland last June and also started the 0-0 draw in Malta last month but boss Michael O’Neill is now struggling for a proven scorer.
The Saddlers were planning for Saturday’s trip to Hartlepool without Grigg because of his international call-up but cannot afford to lose the red-hot hitman for the promotion race.
Craig Westcarr and seven-goal George Bowerman are the likely contenders to replace Grigg in the lone striker’s role at Victoria Park.
Grigg has nine goals in his last seven games for the Saddlers which has fired them into promotion contention in League One.
They are ninth, three points adrift of the play-offs, and unbeaten in nine games ahead of their trip to the north east.
They face play-off rivals Yeovil and Coventry next weekend in two do-or-die Easter weekend clashes.
They have lost just once in 2013 and 21-year-old Grigg has epitomised the Saddlers’ revival under Dean Smith this season.
After scoring just four goals last year he bagged his first senior hat-trick in the 3-0 win at Carlisle last month.
And right-back James Chambers believes Grigg, along with Febian Brandy and Jamie Paterson, can make the difference in Walsall’s shock late run to the play-offs.
He said: “The flair players, like Grigg, Paterson and Brandy, give us the onus up the pitch and when we’re attacking we look really good.
"It’s very exciting, something always looks like it might happen and it keeps the fans on the edge of their seats.
“I’m always excited watching those guys play because you know they can make things happen.”